Catalyst: Sparking Change in the Kindergarten Classroom

Catalyst: Sparking Change in the Kindergarten Classroom

Tracey Dunn

Imagine: you’re in a classroom, with all new technology, iPads, SMART Boards… the works. And though you can be observed, you don’t have to know it--because observers watch you from behind a one-way mirror, undetected. It’s just you and your students. Now, think about what you could accomplish in that type of environment.

Believe it or that, that “imagined” dream was my reality.

During the summer of 2013, I was presented with the opportunity to take my upcoming Kindergarten class on a blended learning adventure. Looking back, this new model of teaching and learning was one that challenged my students and me to excel together. Little did I know where this journey would lead us.

You’ve been selected!

After welcoming my new group of Kindergarteners to Hopkins Elementary, I began the 2013-2014 school year by establishing a positive classroom culture while practicing the typical procedures and routines of Kindergarten. But in early October, I received some exciting news that would significantly ramp up our upcoming second quarter.

We were going to begin our blended learning instruction in Catalyst, a new state-of-the-art research classroom.

On October 28, 2013, my students and I took our first bus ride to Ridge Middle School, where we spend our Mondays through Thursdays in the Catalyst classroom for the next month and a half. Catalyst is equipped with a class set of iPads, a two-touch SMART Board and document camera, numerous writable surfaces and flexible furniture. The writable surfaces include plexiglass walls, dry erase floor mats, and dry erase clipboards.

But the benefits of Catalyst weren’t just intended for us.

On the inside, looking out

Catalyst serves as a two-part classroom split by a one-way mirror. The classroom neighbors an adjoining meeting room where teachers and administrators can view instruction.

Catalyst’s sound equipment allows observers to listen to teacher-student interaction as well. During our time at Catalyst, we shared our day with twenty-two internal visitors and thirty-eight out of district visitors and companies, who both observed from the outside and came into the classroom to interact with students. My students loved sharing their learning with others. “Look what I made!” was a common phrase when visitors stepped into Catalyst.

You may be thinking, “What an odd teaching arrangement,” but our transition was rather smooth due to the tremendous amount of support my class received from school board members, district administrators, fellow teachers, instructional coaches and parents. This was a true example of how teamwork makes the dream work.

And best of all? It was time to exercise my Kindergarten creative license! With an amazing array of tech at my and my students’ fingertips, my goal was to structure our days around small group learning. Direct instruction was limited, but used to introduce, review, and discuss our learning stations. After a few minutes together as a class, students were eager to begin working.

I selected a four-station rotation model of blended learning, and soon, quiet calm transitions became the norm between stations. My students worked in the following Language Arts and Math stations:

1. Guided teacher instruction: My instruction varied based upon the needs of students. This was a perfect time for guided reading and math activities, interventions and small group/individual assessments. Incorporating technology allowed for continuous instruction while I met with small groups of students. I was also able to multiply the amount of quality instruction taking place in the classroom due to the addition of technology resources.

2. Independent peer practice: Working independently or in pairs/groups allowed students to reinforce learning through games, SMART Board activities, and manipulative practice. Our Catalyst environment stressed collaboration, and these tools opened a new door of responsibility for students when they used peers as a built-in support system.

3. iPads: Students explored many digital resources such as Lexia, MobyMax, Raz-Kids, QR code activities, Educreations, and Teach by Knowmia, and had access to 30 iPads. The amount of resources enabled students to explore digital content specific to individual needs.

4. Plexiglass Wall: Letters, numbers, sight words, sentence copying, and alphabetic spelling were all areas of focus as students developed writing and cooperative working skills. This area gave students a space to stretch out both their minds and bodies. Standing, sitting, kneeling (with or without comfy pillows) were student favorites for work time. The plexiglass allowed multiple opportunities for writing practice and peer engagement, where students worked in pairs and became accountability partners for each other.

The benefits and outcomes

When it came to my students, they thrived in this new environment. They loved the extra responsibility that came with using iPads, traveling between workstations, and having freedom in the classroom. Encouraging more student choice resulted in a positive shift in student engagement. Setting small group behavior and work expectations played a huge roll in our Catalyst success.

But the success wasn’t just qualitative. We have winter assessment benchmark data comparing my 2013-2014 Kindergarten Catalyst class with my 2012-2013 Kindergarten class. The proof is in the data: out of eight competency areas, my Catalyst class made higher growth than the 2012-2013 class in six of those areas. Take a look at the data below, compiled by my school's Instructional Technology Coach Chelsey Eminger:

My time in Catalyst was just as much a learning experience for me as a teacher. I was challenged to explore a different method of teaching which proved to push my students to new heights. I now focus on how to structure my classroom so students feel supported when asked to think outside of the box and try something new.

Observers were quick to notice the high level of on task behavior at various stations. Students enjoyed working alongside classmates, but understood what was to be accomplished during work time. The relaxed atmosphere seemed to invite students to hold each other accountable for having a positive work ethic.

Our Catalyst journey has definitely caused change. Change in myself as an educator, change in my students and change in my fellow colleagues. Talk about a total success! Upon returning from Catalyst, I maintained a station rotation model of blended learning in my classroom, and now, my students continue to impress me with their ability to embrace technology for learning. This was truly a year to celebrate and remember, and I encourage teachers to think of the possibilities a change in thinking and doing has to offer. It just might be exactly what you and your students need!

NOTE: This article is part of EdSurge's Fifty States Initiative (representing the state of Ohio).

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